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NSWC Dahlgren Division Develops Innovative New Employee Virtual Onboarding During a Pandemic

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications | Feb. 18, 2021

DAHLGREN, Va. – Everyone remembers their first day in a new workplace with a mix of anticipation, nervousness, taking in new sites and meeting new people, but what is that ritual like for employees who onboard from home during a global pandemic? Hiring exceptional talent during a pandemic presented new challenges but proved to be beneficial as well. As recruiting policies and hiring procedures evolved due to the recent pandemic, the Human Resources Division at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) developed innovative virtual practices for onboarding new employees for various projects.

“We have an exceptional group of individuals,” said Sarah Lloyd, branch head for the Human Systems and Automation Branch for the NSWCDD Integrated Combat Systems Department. “They come from different leadership levels and skill sets, and are dedicated to continuing the recruiting efforts and providing opportunities for new employees to become a contributing part of our department.”

After utilizing diverse recruiting and hiring platforms including internship programs, such as the STEM Student Employee Program and career events through the Department of the Navy as well as multiple employment websites, the new employee orientation team initiates the onboarding process for new employees.

Joseph Kreider participated in two different internship programs offered by the Department of Navy as a student while earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. He acknowledges the positive influence and learning experience gained through such recruiting programs.

Kreider - hired as an engineer for the Combat Systems Ship Integration Branch - supports the Aegis project. “The knowledge, experience, and understanding that my teammates have of the systems on ships is amazing,” said Kreider. “It’s exciting to see their willingness and eagerness to share it amongst the team.”

The early stages of integrating new employees into their respective fields are considered routine across the board. Before the pandemic, assimilating these new employees required in-person orientation, organization training and interaction between leadership and staff. With COVID-19 restrictions making the in-person interface almost impossible, the need arose to adjust and create effective and efficient ways to onboard new employees.

Anita Kirkland — branch head for the Human Systems Integration Branch at NSWCDD — discussed the challenges and difficulties when faced with virtually onboarding new employees within the department and establishing engaging interaction.

Drawing from her own unique perspective relating to the onboarding process, Kirkland said, “Virtual onboarding presented different challenges, since for me, one of the benefits is getting to know the new employee, even in the first few days. I’m a people person and missed the opportunity to share the same space and leverage facial cues or physical expressions, which were not necessarily visible during virtual connections.”

Lloyd shares a similar mindset as Kirkland, having managed the onboarding process for several new hires herself, and stated, “one of the benefits to communicating virtually with a new team member is the ability to include key branch leadership into the virtual meeting all at once.”

According to Lloyd, “this process provides a more efficient way to have the interaction with senior leadership, group leads, and technical subject matter experts in one centralized location. It just happens to be virtual.”

One of the primary factors emphasized throughout the department is open communication and consistent remote interaction with new employees during training orientations and workforce development to ensure they acclimated successfully.

Kirkland coordinated the onboard process for Adam Goetz, who works as a human factors engineer assigned to the Space Design and Analysis group (SDA) within the HSI branch and oversees design and development of shipboard command spaces from a human-centric perspective. Within a matter of days of completing training and orientation within the SDA group, Goetz utilized his skills and knowledge in human factors and construction in to assist his team in the buildout of the U.S. Coast Guard bridge model in the Human Performance Lab, followed by cognitive walkthroughs and command space design analysis with the fleet.

Goetz attributed his successful integration into the branch to his group lead and peer mentor constantly encouraging receptive relationships with leadership and colleagues. He said, “Building a rapport with your group leads and peer mentors is imperative because they’re your support system in the first few months.”

Kirkland noted that her approach in establishing bi-weekly communications with new employees even before they onboard pays dividends in ensuring new team members feel they are an integral part within the department from day one, and by putting processes in place for consistent communications with weekly all-hands emails and monthly branch meetings.

Collaborative content management systems and other such platforms are an effective means of communication and permit new employees, colleagues, and leadership to continuously engage with one another.

Virtual onboarding initiated positive changes to existing procedures and established efficient methods. By providing ample development resources and constant communication, new employees can complete training and orientation at their own pace and become more proficient in their division roles.

Kirkland believes the onboarding process will continue to evolve and merge new and previous procedures to become a sustainable onboarding program for the future. She said, “With virtual onboarding, we are constantly improving procedures to develop an efficient process during the pandemic, while also maintaining elements that proved functional prior to the pandemic.”

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